The Dark Below is a panic filled thriller with almost no dialogue that plays with terror in a totally unique way
“Silence is the most powerful scream.”
A woman is strangled and drugged. She awakens in the middle of a frozen lake, a man forcing scuba diving gear onto her. In front of her is a hole that leads into the beyond freezing temperatures of this cold winter’s day. The man straps an oxygen tank onto her back and tosses her in. She is now trapped under the ice with an oxygen tank with very little air left and must choose to either fight for her life or succumb to the cold.
“Love is cold.”
Written by Doug Schulze and Jonathan D’Ambrosio and directed by Schulze, The Dark Below stars Lauren Shafer and David G.B. Brown. This film is an ambitious, interesting piece. Told from the perspective of Rachel and her attacker Ben, the film jumps back and forth between agonizing scenes of Rachel trapped beneath the lake and how she came to be there. The flashbacks allow us a glimpse into the life of Rachel and Ben and how they met. Only three words are spoken throughout the film, allowing you to fully process and feel what is happening. While this is pretty neat, it makes for quite a lonely watching experience. You don’t lose anything from the story by not having dialogue, but I also don’t think it enhances it in any way.
Shafer and Brown deliver incredibly strong performances, which is good because obviously this movie relies entirely on them. Shafer was captivating, and I was rooting SO hard for her the entire time. Brown was terrifying in that sort of handsome, subtle way. And the two of them together felt believable and intense.
This movie delivers on claustrophobic in a whole different way. Think ‘The Descent’ but completely under water. There are scenes where Rachel finds an air pocket under the ice and gasps for breath, clinging to the top of the lake. It’s horrifying to watch, and you feel breathless and panicky. It’s incredibly well done and plays more on you mentally than any sort of physical jump scare. Even the violence, while minimal, actually feels enhanced in this quiet, dangerous film.
THE HIGH POINTS
- The music by David Bateman was really great in the way it carries the story and plays with your emotions. During the tense scenes, you feel almost breathless as Rachel and Ben fight and the music crescendos.
- It’s fun to begin to unravel the pieces of Rachel and Ben’s story and figure out how exactly they got to this point. Ben’s storyline is pretty frightening and well done.
- This is a pretty fucked up, fascinating way to murder someone. Pretty damn unique.
- Those frost bite scenes…ohhhh boyyyy. When I was younger, I got locked in a car in -40 (Canadian style) weather and got frost bite in my toes. That shit is serious, and I’m still affected by it almost 20 years later. Rachel’s frost bite made me ILL. But it was so great, and I was screaming during a certain…finger…scene.
- This film is also super short, coming in at just over an hour and fifteen minutes, which I am a huge fan of. I’m not loving this two hour horror movie phase going on right now, so this was a refreshing change. They pulled off a lot in the time allotted, and it moved quickly and never felt drawn out or cut short.
THE LOW POINTS
- Look, this is a pretty elaborate setup. So if you poke too many holes, the logic will fall through. Does Ben always use this setup for the other women he’s killed? And if so, wouldn’t Rachel have noticed the bright lights out on the lake? And if not, if this is just a special occasion, wouldn’t Rachel have noticed him carrying all those lights and equipment out to the lake? The house sits literally on the edge of it.
- I sort of wish the flashbacks had talking. I would’ve liked that better I think. Present tense can be quiet and wordless but flashbacks have talking. It’s not that I never knew what was going on. This movie is quite easy to follow, but it sort felt of lonely watching it.
- The logistics in the final fight scene are off for me. As with most horror films, the final epic battle always gets confusing and messy. This was no different. While it didn’t take anything away from the story, I did feel myself being pulled out at some points wondering where the hell that gun came from.
LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT?
What The Dark Below has is commitment. And, while there are a few flaws, WHO CARES?! This movie is unique and refreshing for the genre, and I had a lot of anxiety-ridden fun while watching it.
I would give it a solid 8/10 and recommend to anyone looking for something new and quiet in the horror genre.
Now I need to go take a very hot bath because this movie chilled me to the bone.